Breastfeeding is one of those natural things that doesn’t always come naturally, or so I found out once my milk came in. Before my baby was born, the only concern I had about breastfeeding was milk production. At 37 weeks pregnant, I started harvesting colostrum at the advice of our midwife Fiona. Easy enough, I thought. I was able to harvest quite a lot of it and thought I was on my way to a smooth sailing breastfeeding journey. When our little girl was born, they put her on my chest to enjoy the famous golden hour. She latched on and started feeding right away, it felt magical. I was in awe that my body was enough to keep this tiny human alive.
On day two, my milk came in and I was not prepared for it. Having been a “C” cup most of my adult life, I was already having a difficult time coming to terms with the size of my pregnancy boobs. When my milk came in, they took on a life of their own. I never expected them to get that big and they were, big, HUGE even. Not only that, they were also incredibly painful and hard. I was told not to pump so not to become an over-supplier, but I had no choice but to. The relief was welcome. On top of pumping, I would cry under scalding hot water in the shower, hand expressing milk into the tub to relieve even more pressure. It felt as though my boobs were going to explode and at the time baby girl wasn’t eating enough to empty them.
To make matters worse, she wasn’t latching properly when my boobs quadrupled in size and I ended up with cracked nipples that made each feed excruciating. By day 5, I cried at nearly each feed. My nipples were bleeding and I was told to keep at it, that the best and fastest way to heal the cracks was through breastfeeding. On day 6, I started experiencing panic attacks at the thought of breastfeeding. I wanted to take a break, but I was told that introducing the bottle before 14 days would cause nipple confusion, that baby would no longer be interested in the breast. I fought through the pain, though each feed left me with severe nerve pain from my chewed nipples.
In the middle of the night on day 7, I couldn’t do it anymore, the PTSD was too much. I held my screaming baby in my arms, unable to latch her on my breast because of fear. I too joined in her crying and I asked my husband to prepare a bottle. To hell with nipple confusion I thought, by then what mattered most was making sure she ate. While I tried to soothe baby, my husband, bless his heart, had to thaw frozen breast milk, unpack our Nano Bebe bottles, wash and sterilise them and prepare a feed while hearing the two loves of his life crying. He fed her as I couldn’t do it. While she took the bottle, I felt like the biggest failure. I had failed my baby I thought. I couldn’t even last a whole week of breastfeeding. I had succumbed to my pain, I was a weak mother, I wasn’t cut out for it. Those were all the thoughts going through my head, even though my baby was being fed milk that I had produced, I felt as though I had failed her because that milk was fed through the bottle.
The next day my lactation consultant (Professional Aunty) came over. She took one look at my nipples and told me to take a break. She explained to me that taking a break from breastfeeding did not make me a failure. This helped validate my feelings and I felt more comfortable with my decision to stop feeding baby until my nipples healed. The same day, hubby and I drove up to North London to pick up the hospital grade Medela pump that was recommended by the women in my mum group. We also bought two bottles of formula just in case, I didn’t want to be caught unprepared, I had to be ready to feed our baby by any means necessary when she got hungry.
For the next 6 days, I focused on healing and pumping. By the grace of God, pumping was very successful. I produced roughly 800ml per day by pumping 4 times a day. My freezer stash grew quickly and baby girl was taking the bottle really well. Meanwhile, armed with my silver nipple shields and Lasinosh nipple balm, I was on the road to recovery. In the meantime, baby girl hadn’t gotten back to her birth weight and I was devastated. I felt like an even bigger failure as I thought it was surely my fault. My husband continue to positively reaffirm me, which helped tremendously.
On day 12, we went out for a walk without the bottles, it was a beautiful day. Baby girl had just had a feed before we left and since she slept so well in the pram, we were sure she would be asleep the entire time. Unfortunately, as we sat down on a patio to enjoy a snack, she woke up and was hungry. We were too far from home so I just whipped out my healed boob, the right one, and fed her. I nearly cried because finally she was latching properly and it wasn’t as painful. From then on, we started alternating her feeds, breast, bottle until I felt comfortable enough to do all her feeds on the boob.
Now baby girl is so used to the boob that she barely accepts the bottle these days, which we need to reverse because I’m going back to work soon. When I look back at my breastfeeding journey, I feel so grateful for Kemi of Professional Aunty and my husband who encouraged me to take a break and let my body heal. Had I not, I 100% would not be breastfeeding today. I would have given up and pumped exclusively. I would have missed out on all the beautiful hours of bonding I share with my baby girl while feeding her. Now that it’s going well, it truly is my favourite thing for us to do together. I love the look of satisfaction on her face when she comes off the boob after a long feed. I love that she’s now gotten more confident as well and knows how to find the nipple on her own. Most of all, I love how much I’ve grown throughout this experience.
Breastfeeding takes so much out of me. I feel so drained after each feed, I’m constantly hungry and thirsty. It’s an emotional rollercoaster but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
If you’ve breastfed, please share your journey below.